Details on potentially relaxing COVID-19 restrictions ahead of Christmas, as well as plans to increase the number of rapid testing kits available to Albertans, will be announced Tuesday, Premier Jason Kenney said Friday.
The province’s current state of public health emergency is slated to lapse on Tuesday, and Kenney said that’s why the government is looking at “some modest, common-sense relaxation of measures for Christmas holidays.”
Kenney said his personal Christmas plans wouldn’t be possible under the current plans, which limit gatherings to 10 people from two families if everyone is vaccinated.
“I’ll be gathering with three family members. We’re all fully vaccinated, come from three households, only four people, but we wouldn’t be able to do that Christmas based on the current rules,” he said.
On Friday, Alberta reported 287 new cases of COVID-19, and a total of 4,059 active cases — 35 fewer cases since Thursday. However, four more cases of the Omicron variant have been identified, three in the Calgary Zone and one in the Edmonton Zone, for a total of 23 cases in the province.
As of Thursday, Alberta Health Services (AHS) said in a press release, about 1,013 contact tracers and case investigators as well as 322 casual staff are working to notify close contacts of those who either test positive for the new variant or are suspected to have it.
Contact tracers will also notify close contacts of positive cases who have recently travelled outside of Canada and the U.S., AHS added.
The health authority recommends that close contacts of these cases get tested if they experience symptoms, and advises those who aren’t fully vaccinated to isolate for at least 14 days after their last contact with a positive Omicron case or international traveler.
Alberta also reported 367 people hospitalized with the disease, one less since Thursday, and 71 patients in intensive care, one more since Thursday.
During the fourth wave of the pandemic, when case numbers soared, forcing the cancellation of thousands of surgeries, that number peaked at 266.
The premier called future waves of the pandemic “inevitable” and said officials have to focus on getting baseline numbers down to a satisfactory level in order to proceed with relaxation of the rules.
By Tuesday the hope is that total ICU admission will have dropped to 173, making it possible for the province to return to 100 per cent surgical capacity, he said.
“I don’t want to create a situation where we have millions of Albertans violating the rules when we were not in a current emergency situation.”
Also coming Tuesday is a plan to make more rapid testing kits available to the general public, Kenney said.
After already distributing “several hundred thousand kits” to parents in schools where there have been outbreaks, Kenney said this announcement will address the general public.
“One of the earlier challenges that we had is that many of these kits were approved by Health Canada only on the condition that they be used for people who are symptomatic,” he said.
“But we have received, from the federal government, the green light to allow for broader distribution and use.”
Kenney said the number of rapid tests that Alberta has are unlikely to be enough to cover the expected demand and that he has raised with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau the need for Health Canada to approve more rapid tests.
“Canada has only a handful of rapid test kits that have been approved … Europe, by comparison, has well over 100 different rapid test products that are on the market, many of which are much easier to use, more consumer-friendly,” he said.
Alberta Health spokesperson Lisa Glover said Friday that the province has deployed about six million tests and has about 5.5 million in inventory. The majority of the supply expires in 2023, she said.
According to the province’s latest vaccination figures, just over 20 per cent of Albertans aged five to 11 have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while just over 89 per cent of those 12 and older have received their first dose, and about 84 per cent are fully vaccinated.
In a series of tweets Friday, AHS said it has received reports that scammers claiming to be from AHS are asking Albertans for their credit card information and promising them money for getting a COVID-19 vaccine.